During the ancient period Avanti, was one of the Mahajanapadas and Ujjain was the dominant urban center of that region. Ujjain was one of the most important trade centre which connected all the major trade routes during that time. The important trade route which was connected to Ujjain was Pataliputra (Bihar), Shravasti (Kosala to the seaport in Sopara), Bharuch in Gujarat.
Later during the 4th Century, Avanti lost its independence and came under the province of Mauryan Empire. Asoka was appointed as viceroy of Ujjain by his father Bindusara. Later after the death of Emperor Ashoka, he was followed by a weak successor and soon the empire lost control over its own territories.
We find many varieties of Ujjain copper coins that displays various symbols like Tree-in-railing, Chakra, Six-armed symbol, Swastika, Taurine, Indradhvaja, Srivatsa, River, Fish-tank, Sun, Wheel, Tree mounted on hill etc. One of the interesting things about their coinage is the three-arched hill which was an important symbol on Mauryan Karshapana, is used only a few Ujjain types. Ujjain symbol is one of the most interesting devices found on the coins of various dynasties & eras.
There are various ancient dynasties and kingdoms of ancient India spread far and wide that used ‘Ujjaini symbol’ as one of the key devices on their coinages. It’s seen on coins of the mighty Satavahanas, regional issues of Malwa and Ujjain, Suktimati, Vidarbha PMC’s, coins from the Marathwada region, Bhadra-Mitra, Kaushambi, Erikachha, Maharathis etc. This symbol is commonly known as ‘Ujjaini’ because a hoard of coins was first discovered in Ujjain with majority of the coins which displayed the same symbol. It consists of a cross connecting four circles/orbs. There are various types and sub types even for the orbs; they are either hollow or filled with pellet or Swastika symbols. A double or single ring also appears inside the orbs. There are orbs without the central cross also known to exist and many more.
Various experts have their own theories about this so called Ujjaini symbol. Some experts suggest that it represents the junction of four roads to the ancient city of Ujjain as it was an important trade center. On the other hand there are a few who believe that Ujjain symbol represents ‘Damaru’ of Lord Shiva whereas, some say that it represents four gates of Ujjain with four temples of Lord Shiva with the temple of Lord Mahakaal in the center.
Image Courtesy: Personal collection: Amit Udeshi